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Fair Housing Law and Practice 2020

Speaker(s): Armen H. Merjian, Diane L. Houk, Jessica Clarke, Kevin M.. Cremin, Neil B.. Garfinkel, Robert Desir, Sara L. Shudofsky
Recorded on: Dec. 10, 2020
PLI Program #: 278286

Armen H. Merjian is one of the nation’s leading HIV/AIDS and civil rights attorneys. For over two decades at Housing Works/HIV Law Project, Armen has conducted impact litigation on issues involving HIV/AIDS, homelessness, public benefits, disability, gender, and housing discrimination. He has litigated numerous landmark cases, including Hanna v. Turner (establishing the right of homeless New Yorkers living with AIDS to same-day placement in emergency housing, the first ruling of its kind in the United States); Hernandez v. Barrios Paoli (eliminating the onerous eligibility verification review for tens of thousands of indigent New Yorkers living with AIDS); Henrietta D. v. Bloomberg (the largest welfare/ADA case in U.S. history, establishing that the failure to provide reasonable accommodations is an independent form of disability discrimination in the Second Circuit); Melendez v. Wing (striking down the denial of SSI “invisibility” for recipients of public assistance); Bumpus v. New York City Transit Authority (finding 40,000 Transit Authority workers not exempt from City Human Rights Law, and ruling that gender identity protections do not violate the First Amendment and are not constitutionally vague); Short v. Manhattan Apartments (the first trial challenging source of income housing discrimination in New York), and Wilson v. Phoenix House (finding drug treatment program subject to the human rights law and its transgender protections).

Armen is a co-author of the national treatise on AIDS, AIDS and the Law, a member of the ABA’s HIV/AIDS Impact Project, and a contributing author of the Civil Rights Litigation and Attorney Fees Annual Handbook. He is also the author of 18 law review articles on human and civil rights and has published in the nation’s top-ranked law journal in five different areas: human rights law, poverty law, law and public policy, immigration law, and criminal law. An executive editor at Bender’s called his article on asylum “a must read for all immigration law students,” while his article on ethics and international arbitration has been cited and used on at least five continents. 

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Diane L. Houk joined the firm as Counsel in 2009. Her practice focuses on representing individual and organizational plaintiffs in housing discrimination matters, including Broadway Triangle Community Coalition v. New York City; National Fair Housing Alliance v. Facebook, Inc; Fair Housing Justice Center v. M&T Bank; Kneer and Long Island Housing Services v. German American Settlement League, Inc., and L. C. v. LeFrak City. Prior to joining the firm, Diane co-founded the New York City-based Fair Housing Justice Center in 2004 and served as its first Executive Director until 2009.

Ms. Houk previously worked at the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in the Housing & Civil Enforcement Section from 1991 to 2004. During her tenure as a Senior Trial Attorney, Ms. Houk served as lead counsel in more than thirty housing discrimination cases filed by the United States in federal courts throughout the country. Her docket included systemic “pattern and practice” cases, as well as individual complaints referred by HUD, involving allegations of race, national origin, familial status, sex, and disability discrimination. These included rental discrimination cases based on “testing” investigations and local land use cases, such as United States v. Yonkers, NY; United States v. Parma, OH; United States v. City of Jacksonville, FL; and United States v. Pooler, GA.

In 2000, Ms. Houk was named Special Litigation Counsel by the Division. In that role, she oversaw the development and litigation of race, national origin, and religious discrimination cases involving land use and zoning, redevelopment plans, building and occupancy codes, and affordable housing programs.

Prior to joining the Department of Justice, Ms. Houk was in private practice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for seven years litigating civil rights cases alleging race, national origin, disability, sexual harassment, and sexual orientation discrimination in housing and employment. She served as General Counsel to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council and handled numerous cases utilizing evidence obtained from “fair housing testing.”

Ms. Houk co-taught the Housing Discrimination Seminar at Columbia Law School from 2005 to 2014 and is a frequent speaker and lecturer on housing discrimination law.

Jessica Clarke is the Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau at the New York State Office of the Attorney General. The bureau enforces federal, state and local civil rights laws, including in the areas of fair housing, employment, education, criminal justice, among others.

Prior to joining the Attorney General's Office, Ms. Clarke was Of Counsel to the firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel. She was previously a Trial Attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Housing and Civil Enforcement Section. While at the DOJ, Ms. Clarke successfully tried United States v. Town of Colorado City, a first-of-its-kind housing discrimination and police misconduct case. She also led a sexual harassment suit against an agency that administers the Housing Choice Voucher program in a rural county in North Carolina (United States v. Wesley). The suit settled and resulted in $2.7 million in damages for victims.

Ms. Clarke clerked for Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr. in the Northern District of Ohio. She graduated with honors from The Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law in 2008.

Kevin M. Cremin is the Director of Litigation for Disability and Aging Rights at Mobilization for Justice (formerly MFY Legal Services).  He received his J.D. from Yale Law School and his B.A. from the University of Chicago.  After clerking for a federal district court judge and a federal court of appeals judge, Kevin enforced the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act for the United States Department of Justice.  As an American India Foundation Clinton Fellow, he conducted a study on community-based services for individuals with psychiatric disabilities in India.  Kevin has taught at Columbia Law School and Yale Law School, and he has authored articles that have been published in the Yale Law and Policy Review, Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights, Frontiers of Law in China, Cardozo Law Review, and other publications.

Neil B. Garfinkel received his Juris Doctorate from Cornell Law School and his Bachelor of Arts from the State University of Albany at New York, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.

Mr. Garfinkel is the Managing Partner of Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson, LLP (“AGMB”), a full service law firm which has offices in New York and California.  Additionally, he serves as the partner-in-charge of the real estate and banking practices of AGMB.

Neil B. Garfinkel’s legal experience is diverse and his practice focuses on all aspects of residential and commercial real estate, banking and lending law.  Mr. Garfinkel’s clients include national and international banks, mortgage bankers, mortgage brokers, real estate brokers, real estate developers, and purchasers and sellers of residential and commercial real estate.

Neil serves as Broker Counsel to the Real Estate Board of New York (“REBNY”), New York City’s leading real estate trade association.  In addition to counseling REBNY and its members on the vast array of laws and regulations that affect the real estate brokerage community, Neil hosts the REBNY Legal Line, a daily legal hotline provided exclusively for members of REBNY.  He also authors the REBNY Legal Line Question of the Week and Fair Housing Fridays, which are distributed to all REBNY members on a weekly basis.  Through his affiliation and participation with REBNY and the Long Island Board of Realtors (“LIBOR”), he is acutely aware of the many issues that face real estate brokers on a daily basis.  Mr. Garfinkel is also a member of the New York State Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors. Additionally, he has the SRES (Senior Real Estate Specialist) and CDEI (Certified Distance Education Instructor) designations.

In 2018, he was appointed to the New York State Board of Real Estate (the “State Board”). The State Board has the general authority to promulgate rules and regulations affecting real estate brokers and real estate salespersons. Neil is also the creator of the Toolbox 4 Real Estate Agent Success, a multi-disciplinary platform designed to support real estate agents and the many facets of their careers.

Mr. Garfinkel and AGMB serve as Counsel to the Empire State Mortgage Bankers Association and the New York Association of Mortgage Brokers.  He is also a member of the Community Mortgage Bankers Forum, the Mortgage Bankers Association of New York and National Association of Mortgage Brokers.

Neil enjoys teaching and speaking about a variety of real estate and lending topics.  In particular he spends a significant amount of time lecturing and training on topics relating to fair housing and real estate agency.  He is certified by the New York Department of State as an instructor of real estate courses. He has appeared on various television and nationally syndicated radio shows and is frequently quoted in numerous newspapers and publications.

Mr. Garfinkel is a member of the New York State Bar Association, the Cornell University Real Estate Council, the Cornell Club of New York and Fresh Meadow Country Club. He holds a first degree black belt with the International Shotokan Karate Federation.

Robert Desir has been a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society since 2002. He originally defended Queens tenants in administrative proceedings, summary eviction proceedings and appeals. He is currently a staff attorney in the Society’s Civil Law Reform Unit where he focuses on strengthening tenant rights and protections though legislative advocacy and impact litigation in State and Federal Courts. 

Sara Shudofsky represents clients in a wide range of government investigations and commercial suits. Her practice focuses on healthcare and contracting fraud investigations and litigation, including under the False Claims Act and the Anti-Kickback Statute; challenges to the design & construction of buildings and related facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, as well as programmatic challenges brought under the ADA and state and local laws; environmental investigations and litigation, including under CERCLA, the asbestos NESHAP regulations, and the Clean Water Act; and general affirmative and defensive litigation, including in connection with regulatory and constitutional challenges.

Prior to joining the firm, Ms. Shudofsky was the Chief of the Civil Division of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, where she supervised more than 55 Assistant United States Attorneys and oversaw litigation in a wide variety of practice areas, including financial, healthcare, and contracting fraud; civil rights; environmental protection; tax & bankruptcy; national security; torts; employment; FOIA; and general defensive litigation. During her earlier, sixteen-year tenure in the Civil Division, Ms. Shudofsky served as Chief of the Civil Rights Unit, Deputy Chief of the Civil Division, and Chief Appellate Attorney. Between her two tours at the US Attorney's Office, she spent five years in private practice, where she represented companies and individuals in connection with government investigations and complex civil litigation.